The house of morgan : an American banking dynasty and the rise of modern finance

by Ron Chernow

Paper Book, 2010




New York : Grove Press, 2010.


Winner of the National Book Award and now considered a classic, The House of Morgan is the most ambitious history ever written about an American banking dynasty. Acclaimed by the Wall Street Journal as "brilliantly researched and written," the book tells the rich, panoramic story of four generations of Morgans and the powerful, secretive firms they spawned. It is the definitive account of the rise of the modern financial world. A gripping history of banking and the booms and busts that shaped the world on both sides of the Atlantic, The House of Morgan traces the trajectory of the J. P. Morgan empire from its obscure beginnings in Victorian London to the crash of 1987. Ron Chernow paints a fascinating portrait of the private saga of the Morgans and the rarefied world of the American and British elite in which they moved. Based on extensive interviews and access to the family and business archives, The House of Morgan is an investigative masterpiece, a compelling account of a remarkable institution and the men who ran it, and an essential book for understanding the money and power behind the major historical events of the last 150 years.… (more)

Media reviews

Can a bank actually be heroic? Ron Chernow suggests as much in his exhaustive history of J.P. Morgan and its instrumental role in the development of the industrial Western economy from the late 19th century to the end of the 20th.
1 more
As a portrait of finance, politics and the world of avarice and ambition on Wall Street, the book has the movement and tension of an epic novel. It is, quite simply, a tour de force.

User reviews

LibraryThing member heathweaver
Although not as captivating as Titan (Chernow's biography of J.D. Rockefeller) The House of Morgan is fascinating and informative. Chernow is a master of his material; drawing the reader through the life and times of J.P. Morgan. The book doesn't make many judgements, but lets the reader decide.

I highly recommend any book by Ron Chernow.… (more)
LibraryThing member pbadeer
I really wanted to enjoy this book. I've heard social references to the "House of Morgan" in old movies and even other books, and really thought this would be an interesting read. Chernow was new to me, but with the National Book Award under his belt for this, I thought I was safe. I guess it just wasn't meant to be.

The book is "heavy". And not just physically - because it is a BIG book - but intellectually. I enjoy non-fiction, but this was a lot more dry than I prefer, and the detailed analysis of the characters surrounding the foundation of the bank and some of the financial dealings which helped it succeed just didn't hold my interest.

Maybe if I kept going, there could have been more "development" - but I gave up barely as the bank was founded. When I literally fell asleep in the middle of reading a page (something I virtually never do), I figured it was time to give up the ghost.

Quality writing for sure, but maybe a little too limited an audience for me.
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LibraryThing member kukulaj
Accounting, money... these are ancient, fundamental, as rooted in the essential structure of reality as arithmetic. Or maybe not.

This book traces the Morgan bank from its prehistory with George Peabody in 1839 England up until 1989, with the absorption of the British branch into Deutsche Bank and with the two American branches, Morgan Guaranty and Morgan Stanley, become competing colossi. Chernow does a great job of showing the coupling between the evolution of the bank(s) and the world.

A cornerstone of Darwin's evolutionary theory is that biological species are not universal eternal essences like the Platonic solids, but instead are historical accidents to the core. New structures arise spontaneously and are then pruned severely. This process of co-adaptation gives rise to a marvelous display of diverse capabilities.

It seems that money, accounting, finance, are very much the same sort of affair. The marketplace is a space where great creativity and powerful pruning are constantly at play. The resulting structures are constantly evolving and historical to the core.

To understand the detailed mathematical relationships behind underwriting or leveraged buy-outs - Chernow doesn't help us with that at all; he just sketches the coarsest skeletal structure. But the details are constantly changing! We would need a yearly new edition! But instead, Chernow gives us the history. Sure, it would be wonderful to carry the story forward from 1990. The decades following have surely given us escapades and fireworks to match those of the century and a half that Chernow covers. But Chernow's book is surely as useful today as when it was written. The past twenty years grew out of the preceding century. Chernow's book gives an excellent background to help anyone understand more recent events in the world of banking.

Chernow does a splendid job of fleshing out many key characters, the top banking executives and the star performers.

Reading this book changes how I see the world. It is a transformative work.
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LibraryThing member rexmedford
I consider Chernow to be one of the best biographers I have read. This was an enlightening and timely read. I was astounded of the power of banking, and the fact that the Morgans bailed out the US several times, including putting us back on the gold standard. A very detailed history, written so you can actually read it, and want to read it! I have enjoyed several of Chernows other works....and this was no exception. I would have been interested in History at a younger age if the writers of it were this good. I not only learned about an iconic family, their institution, but the inner workings and ever changing world of banking....a very interesting adventure.… (more)
LibraryThing member Randyflycaster
Great history of the House of Morgan and of the banking industry. I found it fascinating how banking, the U.S. government and foreign policy were so intertwined. I guess the big drawback I had with this book is that I didn't like any of the "Morgan" characters, and I didn't find any of the other characters especially compelling.
LibraryThing member ibkennedy
Older material I found more interesting than the more current material. Still a good read.
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
You can tell straight away that Chernow is going to tell you a great story, especially when he uses words like "brouhaha" to describe an economic catastrophe. There is a sly humor about his writing. How can you not smirk just a little when he writes, "Gooch was being groomed for a career of permanent subordination and forelock tugging" (p 8)? Or says things like "incorrigible Wall Street rascals" (p30)? Yet, his story is vastly inclusive and extremely informative. He takes you back before a time when each state has its own banking system and debts could be settled any which way. We watch the growth of international finance and step into a "wealth" of biographical portraits, if you excuse the pun (since we are talking about banking). I loved the little details; for example, the Morgans were the first private residential household to have electrical lighting in New York and a woman named Belle Greene was Pierpont's "saucy librarian." My one complaint - the book is massive. That's because the tale is massive. Chernow needs every page to tell the story.… (more)
LibraryThing member cyclops1771
Fair to sympathetic biopic of John Pierpont Morgan.
LibraryThing member willszal
I find financial histories riveting. At first glance, I found the mammoth size of this book a bit of a deterrent, but this was not at all the case once I got into it.

"The House of Morgan" is much more than the story of a banking house—it's the story of finance, the United States, and the world, over the past 150 years.

I can't hope to summarize a book of such monumental scope over the course of this review, so instead I'll offer some snapshots.

Did you know that the bankers of yore worked four-hour days and took three months of vacation a year? Instead of the mad rush of 100-hour work weeks and exhaustion-induced suicides commonplace over the past thirty or forty years in finance, banking used to be largely a leisurely and respectable field.

John Pierpont Morgan was actually third in a line of financiers laying the foundation for the J. P. Morgan. The first was British-American banker George Peabody. The second was Pierpont's father, Junius Spencer Morgan. Pierpont was essentially third-generation, so he had a significant head start and a lot of inherited privilege and wealth that made his venture possible! J. P. "Jack" Morgan Jr. was Pierpont's son, and oversaw the pinnacle of Morgan eminence.

J. P. Morgan & Co. was founded in 1971 and died in 1935 with the implementation of Glass-Steagall, which split commercial and "investment" banking. After that, remnants of the Morgan empire remained, but you can't really call them J. P Morgan & Co.

One of the most fascinating stories in the book is the parallel and eventually divergent careers of Tom Lamont (financier to Mussolini and enabler of WWII) and Hjalmar Schacht (German financier, and part of the resistance against Hitler). Basically it came down to the question of is there a point when keeping a friendship easygoing needs to be sidelined to uphold a certain set of ethics or values. Lamont said no when Hjalmar said yes.

Another fascinating fact: pretty much every government defaulted on their debt at some point during the timeline covered in the book; not just "developing" countries like Brazil, but also countries like Japan and Germany. Investors today seem to think of bonds as safe, but in the historical perspective, they don't look that safe...

The book becomes a little jumbled after the split of the bank, as there’s no longer one coherent storyline. Also, there isn’t really any analysis given at the end of the book.

Overall, I found the book fascinating, and would recommend it to anyone interested in the financial history of the United States.
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LibraryThing member MichaelHodges
“THE HOUSE OF MORGAN” is a gripping history of banking and the booms and busts that shaped the world on both sides of the Atlantic, The House of Morgan illuminates the J. P. Morgan empire from its beginnings in Victorian London to the crash of 1987. This book provides a fascinating history of the private saga of the Morgan’s and the rarefied world of American and British elites in which they operated. This book is an investigative masterpiece of the remarkable institution and the “Money” that created the power behind the major historical events of the past two centuries
My thirst for knowledge almost met its match in this extensive saga. However, I lead you all on to read this excellent account of the Morgan dynasty and of the aristocratic banker’s world. 750pp of continuous history from 1830 to 1990. A history of Bank “Panics” and international relations across wars and other international intrigue’s. However, this book allows one to connect the dots across 150 years of hard work and intrigue. This book gives a whole new meaning to “banker’s hour’s” with so much open intrigue and skull-doggery. A truly gripping account of real-life international financial and political maleficence. However, at this time we are left with the lily-white “JP Morgan-Chase” bank, sitting on 3 trillion US dollars in assets as the #1 US savings Bank. I highly recommend this first-rate account as established by Ron Chernow in 1989. Immediately Prior to this read, I imbibed another historical saga of Doris Goodwin’s “The Bully Pulpit”. One can never read too much history!
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LibraryThing member busterrll
Unfortunately I am not educated sufficiently to understand much of was written.
I had to give it up before I got through a third of it
From the reviews I would think it is excellent


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